Skylights featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Skylights featured five times on Earth Science Picture of the Day:
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5

Taurus rising

Photo of the Week. Taurus and the Pleiades rise beyond bare branches.

Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, November 9, 2001.

Some weeks are busy, others not -- this one defines "not," except for the chance to see a dark star-filled sky. The only "news" as such is the new Moon, which takes place the night of Wednesday, the 14th, around midnight in North America. Under near-perfect conditions, the thin crescent, less than a day "old," might be visible the night of Thursday, the 15th, but that would be a near record -- you will really have to wait until the evening of Friday, the 16th, the sighting to be highlighted next week.

While there are no crossings, conjunctions, and so on, the planets still shine with their admirable brilliance. Though the planets sometimes seem to "line up" (but never exactly), they are now spread all over the sky (ignoring Pluto) in three clumps that consist of Mars-Uranus-Neptune, Jupiter-Saturn, and Venus-Mercury. (Such groupings come and go and mean nothing physically -- they represent only an attractive sight.) Mars, moving easterly through Capricornus between Neptune and Uranus, is still quite visible in the southwestern evening sky, and does not set until after 10 PM. Saturn, on the other hand, beautifully placed in Taurus to the east of the Hyades, is now rising just before evening twilight ends. Jupiter, in the middle of Gemini, makes a splashier impact, rising around 8:30. The two will make a glorious sight in mid-winter skies. Though the close visitation between the morning's Venus and Mercury is now over, Venus remains behind to mark the dawn sky, though just barely, the bright planet now rising after twilight and visible only low on the eastern horizon.

Though we speak of 88 "official" constellations, there are really many more, "informal constellations" called "asterisms." The "Great Square" of Pegasus now lines up on the meridian to the south around 8 PM. Directly below it, find the "Circlet" that makes one of the fish of Pisces, the fishes. To the right you can see the triangle that makes the "Water Jar" of Aquarius. A bit to the northwest of Pegasus, and passing nearly overhead in mid-northern latitudes, is Cassiopeia, the Queen, who reigns with not one but two asterisms, her famed "W" and her "Chair" (made of the "W" and one other star), which represents an uncomfortable- looking throne if ever one was. Among the best-known asterisms for northerners is the Little Dipper of Ursa Minor, the smaller bear, which itself contains another asterism, the "Guardians of the Pole," Kochab and Pherkad. They appear to "protect" Polaris, the star that lies almost directly at the sky's north rotation pole, and is almost an asterism all by itself. Others abound, to be highlighted in the months to come.
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